Are you wondering what the best things to do in Varanasi are? Probably, since you are reading this you have made an excellent choice by adding India’s City of Light to your bucket list.
Hold on to your hats; this is one of the planet’s most chaotic, intense and disorganised places. Yet Varanasi is the spiritual capital of India.
The city houses an estimated 23000 Hindu temples like Shri Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Devotes believe that if you are cremated in this sacred city, you can break the cycle of death and reincarnation. So this is a very auspicious place to come and finish life’s journey.
The lively Ghats, epic Temples, age-old Cultures and Traditions make a trip here one of the more stand-out destinations in India or even the world!
How Old Is Varanasi?
- It is believed to date back as early as the 12th century BC and continually habited for the past 3000 years.
Are Varanasi and Kashi the same?
- Yes, Varanasi, Banaras, and Kashi are three names of one single city.
The ancient name for Varanasi is Kāśī (काशी: Kashi.) It comes from a Sanskrit word that means to light. Hence becoming known as India’s city of light. This name can be found in ancient Vedic hymns. It later became known as Bananas until the country’s partition in 1947.
Best Time to Visit Varanasi
- The best time to visit Varanasi is between October and March when the temperatures are in a comfortable range of 27-32 degrees Celsius.
- The winter months are also the occasion of festivals in Varanasi. Such as Dussehra Bharat Milap, Diwali, and Ganga Festival.
- The summer and the monsoon fall in April to September. It can get boiling during this time, with temperatures exceeding 47 degrees celsius.
Things To Do In Varanasi
- The “Spiritual Capital of India” can keep tourists busy for days on end. There are 15 mosques, miles of ghats and an estimated 23,000 temples to explore. You will witness countless ceremonies along its banks, leaving even the most hardened travellers in awe.
Sarnath Tourist Places
Sarnath is one of the four holy places for Buddhists. The town is located just 12 km from the sacred city of Varanasi.
It is of great historical significance as it is where the lord Buddha gave his first sermon. Today it is awash with spirituality and makes for an incredible side trip.
Places to Visit in Sarnath
It is only a tiny place, but there is a lot to see. Let us look at how best to use your time here and where you should visit.
The Chaukhandi Stupa marks the spot where Buddha was reunited with the Panchavargiya Bhikshus, his five companions who had previously deserted him at Rajgir. The original site dates back to the 5th century AD,, but what you see today was commissioned by the Mogul Emperor Akbar in 1589 AD..
Buddha statue Sarnath
This 80-foot-tall standing Buddha is part of the Thai temple and is housed in a peaceful garden. It is well worth visiting if you are in the area.
The Dhamek Stupa is said to mark the spot where the Lord Buddha gave his first sermon, which is of great significance to devotees. The Dhamek Stupa was built in 500 CE to replace an earlier structure commissioned by the great Mauryan king Ashoka in 249 BCE.
The Dharmarajika Stupa is now just foundations as it was pulled down in the 18th century. The remains of this once mighty stupa are still of great importance to Buddhists. It was also commissioned in the 3rd century by the emperor Ashoka.
Jain temple and the majestic Bodhi Tree
A shot of the Bodhi tree under which the lord Buddha was said to have meditated was planted in the Jain temple in 1931. Today it is a peaceful place to come and do a little meditation yourself.
Chinese Temple Sarnath
The Chinese temple at Sarnath was erected in 1939 by the abbot of Beijing, Tao-Kai. There is a massive map of the route taken by the Chinese scholar Hiuen-Tsang in the 7th Century AD in the time of the great king Harshavardhana.
Sarnath Archaeological Museum
The Sarnath Archaeological Museum began construction in 1904 and currently houses 6,832 sculptures and artefacts. It is a fantastic place to get a feel of what Sarnath is all about.
Take a Holy Bath in the Ganges
The River Ganges is considered the holiest Hindu River. Taking a dip or bathing in the Ganges’ sacred waters is an essential thing to do in Varanasi for many tourists.
Well, don’t!!! The river is heavily polluted at this point in its journey as it passes through many major cities before reaching Varanasi, not to mention the leftovers from the cremations floating around in the water.
You can become seriously ill or worse by taking a dip here, so if it is not in your culture, maybe give that a miss.
Visit the Famous Temple in Varanasi
A visit to Varanasi is incomplete without visiting the incredible temples in this city. There is one on almost every road and road crossing in Varanasi. While the small temples are used for daily local prayers and rituals, the larger ones are associated with Hindu history and mythology.
- Some of the famous temples in Varanasi that you must visit are:
Tulsi Manas Temple
The Tulsi Manas Minder is easily one of the most famous temples in Varanasi. It is said the ancient Hindu poet Goswami Tulsidas wrote the epic Ramcharitmanas here. The white marble building was finished in 1964 and draws in devotees from far and wide.
Kashi Vishwanath temple
The Kashi Vishwanath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The beautiful and elegant domes of this building stand out a mile. It is considered one of the most important Shiva temples and has a very turbulent past.
The magnificent 18th-century Durga temple is well worth visiting. It is dedicated to the goddess Durga. The beautiful orca temple is undoubtedly Instagram-worthy.
Enjoy a Morning Boat Ride in the Ganges
A boat ride Floating down this stretch of the Ganges is undoubtedly a highlight of visiting Varanasi. In fact, it is a highlight of visiting India.
Boats move along the Ghats all day, but the best time is the early morning and evening. They give very different experiences, and I strongly recommend you try both.
My favourite is in the early morning as the chanting of prayers and tinkling of bells resonate through the mist.
Relive History By Visiting the Historical Ramnagar Fort
The imposing Ramnagar Fort is the home of the Maharaja of Banaras. The building was constructed in 1750. It is built in the typical Mughul sandstone style. Ramnagar fort is stunning and has been used extensively in Bollywood movies. You can find it next to Tulsi Ghat.
Visit Bharat Kala Bhawan Museum
Bharat Kala Bhavan is situated in Banaras Hindu University, built by Madan Mohan Malviya. Bharat Kala Bhavan.
It showcases more than 1,00,000 artefact collections such as Buddhist and Hindu sculptures, manuscripts, paintings, brocade textiles, and Mughal miniatures, idols of Hindu or Buddhist deities. It takes a while to take this place all in, but well worth the time.
- Entry Fee · For Indians: 20 INR Per Head · For Foreigners: 250 INR Per Head.
Shopping in Varanasi
Shopping in Varanasi is a beautiful thing to do in the free afternoon or evening. The city is widely famous for its silk saris and ornate jewels.
Not many people will visit Varanasi and not buy some kind of souvenir. Lord knows there is a lot to choose from. There is sure to be something of interest here for anyone.
Some of the more popular places are:
Varanasi is famous for many products such as clay pots, copper bowls, and hand-made rugs. It is also renowned for its brass smiths. The Thatheri Bazaar is the best place to find this stuff. The narrow twisted lanes around the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple are a delight to wander around.
Vishwanath Lane sells a little bit of everything. Some shops sell everything from silk to wooden toys. I am pretty sure you can find something to take home here.
Check out Chawk for some of the most fantastic handloom products imaginable. It is a great place to discover your passion for handicrafts. Do not miss this place if you want to find something special.
The massive 3km long Godowlia Market will take you by storm. The volume of quality crafts at reasonable prices will keep you busy for a leisurely afternoon while you shop around for the best deals.
The Banaras Silk Emporium
The Banaras Silk Emporium is world famous for its refined products. It is a place where you can indulge in purchasing the most sumptuous bed covers or Saris. However, be warned that this place is quite expensive for many people. It is a quality silk dealer, after all.
- India is famous for its different festivals all over the world. Throughout the year, lots of fairs and festivals are celebrated here. Enjoying fairs and festivals is on the top list of things to do in Varanasi. Some of the more famous fairs and festivals are
Bharat Milap Mela
The Bharat Milap Mela is celebrated in many parts of India. However, it is possibly at its most colourful in Varanasi. The day is to celebrate the return to his place of birth Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, after 14 years of exile. It is celebrated in October or November and brings in crowds from around the world to marvel at the parades and celebrations.
The festival of Mahashivratri is dedicated to Lord Shiva to celebrate his protecting the world by drinking a cup of poison that he held in his throat. It is observed during the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna. To us, that’s either the 14th of February or March.
Devotees of Lord Shiva flock to the temples to offer their prayers. The Shivalinga (Statue before you wonder) is worshipped with milk, curd, and honey every three hours. Presumably to soothe his throat?
The royal family of Varanasi chose children to perform plays based on the Hindu epic Ramayana. This quirky festival has many elements that are sure to keep you wide-eyed.
The Dhrupad Mela is celebrated for five days exclusively in Varanasi. The focal point is Tulsi Ghat, and there will be musicians from all over India to perform. It was first held in February 1974 and has been at the exact dates annually ever since. Those dates are the 18th until the 21st. If you are in Varanasi, then it is well worth checking out.
India’s festival of light is at its most loud and proud here. There will be celebrations along the whole of the Ghats. Oil lamps, bomb fires, and, most noticeably, fireworks will be lighting up the night. Diwali in Varanasi will almost certainly be one of your stand-out memories of your trip to India should you be here at the right time.
The Ganga festival is celebrated all along the river Ganga; It is there to celebrate the cultural diversity of the people in the Gangetic Plains. Festivities include lots of music and dance. There will also be countless artisans who have ultimately come to trade.
Enjoy a Panoramic View Of The Ganges From Malviya Bridge
- The views are unforgettable when we cross the Ganges river using the double-decker bridge known as Malviya and Dufferin. You can see the whole of the banks of Varanasi in one sweeping panorama. Definitely a shot for Facebook.
Stroll Along the Ghats
- The banks of the Ganges river are lined with sacred sets of stairs that lead down to its holy waters. These are known as Ghats, and they have a variety of functions. Some are praying ghats, bathing ghats, and cremation sites for Hindus.
- A stroll along the river is one of the most memorable things to do here as they are positively bursting with life. Some of the significant essential ghats to visit are
- Mata Anandamai Ghat
- Manikarnika Ghat
- Dashashwamedh Ghat
- Assi Ghat
- Raj Ghat
- Munshi Ghat
- Anandamai Ghat
- Scindia Ghat
- Lalita Ghat
- Prachin Hanuman Ghat
- Meer Ghat
- Dr. Rajendra Prasad Ghat
- Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the most famous ghats near Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Therefore this is a beautiful place to visit during your visit to Varanasi, although it can be a very intense experience.
- It is a cremation ghat, and there are multiple funerals around the clock. Death is unapologetic and matter-of-fact here.
- If that is not intensive enough for you, there will be countless con merchants who want your rupees. Beware of what anyone says around Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Explore The Magnificent Weaver’s Village in Varanasi
- The Weaver’s village is one of the best offbeat things to do in Varanasi. The weavers of Varanasi are internationally known for creating some of the most beautiful masterpieces. The Sarai Mohana village is famous for its intricate work.
- The Banarasi sarees made by these waivers are among the finest saris in India and are known for their gold and silver brocade or zari, fine silk and opulent embroidery. Indian women will wear them during festivals or at a marriage party. Some of these pieces take several weeks to finish.
Visit Jantar Mantar
- The historical attraction was built in 1737 by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Amber and, in earlier times, used to measure things like local time, altitude, the position of the sun, planets, and stars. It is one of the solar observatories in India, the other being in Delhi, Jaipur, Ujjain, and Mathura.
- A big part of the pleasure of visiting these places is trying to figure out how they work. They look like abstract art pieces but were a serious attempt to understand the universe.
Places to Visit Near Varanasi
Varanasi is fascinating; it will be days before you can take it all in. If you want to venture further afield, there are plenty of places nearby of interest. Let’s take a look.
Vindhyachal is a city along the banks of the Ganges, and it is also an essential place of pilgrimage for many Hindus. There are many atmospheric streets for you to wander around and temples all over the city.
Chandra Prabha Sanctuary
The Chandra Prabha Sanctuary wildlife sanctuary is 70km from Varanasi. It is famous for its prehistoric cave paintings and its majestic waterfalls. Chandra Prabha is a beautiful place to come and escape the intense insanity that is Varanasi for a while. Escape back to nature.
Chunar Fort rises abruptly from the plains below. Where the fort’s area now stands has been a strategic fortified spot along the Ganges since around 56 bc. The Moguls and the British Raj occupied the same space. Steeped in history, this place is a fun day out.
Jaunpur is known for its rich culture and historical significance. The city was founded in the 14th century by Feroze Shah Tughlaq, who named it Jaunpur in memory of his cousin Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. Today there are beautiful mosques, a large fort, and a picturesque 17th-century bridge for you to explore.
Ramnagar Durg Puja
Durga Mandir in Ramnagar is a 500-year-old temple that is very square-orientated in its design. Locals come here for Puja or Prayer. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Durga. A visit here makes for a pleasant day out.
What To Do In Varanasi At Night
The old town of Varanasi really comes to life at night. A stroll along the river or around the tiny lanes will be far from peaceful, especially at Dasawamedh Ghat.
Witness Grandeur Evening Aarti Ceremony
- The Evening Aarti Ceremony at the Ganges River in Varanasi is undoubtedly a sight you shall cherish for a long time and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- Brahman priests hold every evening along Dasawamedh Ghat, traditional dances. Many local people profoundly revere these young men, and their performance is spectacular. You can watch from a seat or on your boat. Either way, you are sure to be pleasantly surprised.
Taste The Best Street Food In Varanasi
- Varanasi has a lot to offer when it comes to its culinary heritage. Street Food is an integral part of Varanasi’s culture. However, finding authentic street food is hard in the old town, so it is best to venture out.
- Some of the most famous foods in Varanasi to watch out for are:
A Kachori is a deep-fried, lightly spiced bread made with ground dhal. It is much like a puree and is eaten the same way. A rip and dip sort of breakfast that keeps hunger locked up until lunch. It will come with a vegetable curry often garnished with imly (a tamarind sauce) and coriander chutney.
Choora Matar is a kind of posh poha. The Banarasi twist is that it’s loaded with milk and ghee. If you don’t know what poha is and this means nothing to you, just imagine a very well-flavoured bowl of rice and peas.
Gol Gappe is also known as pani puree. These delicious little balls of flour are filled with a tasty sauce. You will typically have a sweet and sour element to them. I must warn you, they are incredibly Moorish and fattening.
The Baati Chokha is a purely vegetarian restaurant that has built quite a reputation for itself. Locals and tourists alike seem to leave good reviews. I have not been myself, so please let me know about your experience.
Tamatar chaat is a kind of chat that is only available in Varanasi. It is regarded as one of the best, so it is well worth a bash. It is sold on almost every local street food corner so ask locals what they like for the best experience.
The best place to have Malaiyo is in Thatheri Bazar, which lies in the old Banaras. It is only available during the winter, so why not if you are here during that time? It is made from milk, sugar, saffron, and cardamom and served in an earthenware dish.
Thandai is a rich milk drink made with fruits, nuts, and spices. It is often served in a gold chalice. This tasty drink is considered to have health benefits. I’m not sure about that, but I do recommend you try one.
Chena Dahi Vada
Oh yes! Chena Dahi Vada is samosas smashed out with some chickpea curry. Again it will probably be accompanied by imli and coriander chutney. It is also often served with spiced curd. Trust me when I say this dish is not to be missed.
Try Mouthwatering Banarsi Paan
- Banarsi Paan is famous all over the world after becoming part of the dinner menu of Barack Obama, but be warned, paan is highly addictive.
- However, one would not damage you, so why not travel your tastebuds? So what is it exactly? Betel leaves are stuffed with Catechu, Pickling Lime, Areca Nut, and Plain Tobacco.
Taste Lassi at Blue Lassi Cafe
- The blue lassi cafe is one of Varanasi’s most famous shops that serves its drinks with a twist. Lassis are infused with different flavours like apples, bananas, custard apples, etc. I have visited here many times, and I have never been disappointed. Their slogan is the number one lassi in all Varanasi, and I would have to agree wholeheartedly.
Taste Bhang from Godowlia
- Perhaps unsurprisingly, a bhang shake is one of the most popular recreational drugs in Varanasi that assures to get you high. Bhang is dried cannabis which is served in a chilled glass of thandai. You can find it at many shops in Godowlia Crossing in Varanasi. I must give a word of caution and tell you these can be very strong indeed.
How To Reach Varanasi
- The town’s importance has ensured it is easily accessible by air, railways, and road networks from all over the state.
- The nearest airport to reach Varanasi is Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport, 25 kilometres from the city centre. Regular domestic flights, as well as flights from Kathmandu and Thailand, are also available. From the air terminal, buses, auto, and cabs are easily accessible to the city.
How to Reach Varanasi by Train
- Varanasi Railway Station has regular connectivity with trains from all over India. The town sits conveniently on the Dehli to Kolkatta line breaking up the journey. Mughal Sarai Railway station, 10 kilometres from the city, also offers lots more train options to numerous destinations in India.
Varanasi by Road
- The road network to reach Varanasi is wonderful. By road, the city has connectivity with most major cities of Uttar Pradesh and parts of neighbouring states. Both government buses and private air-conditioned buses ply these routes. In addition, cabs ensure hassle-free travel when you use an app.
Is It Safe To Visit Varanasi?
- If you are entering internationally, you should check for the current COVID-19 restrictions with the Indian government. These are subject to change at a moment’s notice. However, as of late things seem to be moving in a positive trend.
- Varanasi attracts plenty of sketchy characters and you would be wise to be vigilant. That does not mean paranoia as most trips here are trouble-free. What I am saying is to exert a little extra caution.
Accommodation: Budget Hotels In Varanasi
- Accommodation in Varanasi is not an issue. You’ll find countless options to suit every pocket, from five-star hotels to budget guesthouses. If you are going to Varanasi, make sure to stay on the banks of the River Ganges in the old town.
- I always stay in budget accommodation as I am a backpacker but if you are not here are some of the best:
- Ganges Inn
- Guleria Kothi
- Ramada Plaza, JHV
- Hotel Surya Kaiser Palace
- Palace On Ganges – Heritage Hotel
- Ganges View Hotel Varanasi
With so many modes of transport and places to stay visiting India’s city of light will be a breeze. No matter how you get there or where you stay your holiday is sure to give you memories that last a lifetime.
FAQS Related to Varanasi
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions by other travellers.
What should we not miss in Varanasi?
- Boating in the Ganges:
- Visiting the Temples:
- Take a Stroll on the Ghats:
- Buy a Banarasi Silk Saree
- Relax in the Blue Lassi cafe
What should I wear in Varanasi?
Varanasi is a conservative place so please cover up. Light colours and thin material are best as it is baking hot throughout the year. In the wintertime, it can get quite cold at night so bring a jumper if you visit at this time.
How many days are enough in Varanasi?
I would budget at least three or four to take it all in properly.
What are the Best things to do in Varanasi in 1 day?
Visiting the Ramgarh fort, tasting the local street food, visiting Sarnath, attending the aarti ceremony, and a sunrise boat ride on the Ganges river. This can all be achieved in one full day!
Where is Varanasi located?
Varanasi is located in the very heart of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. The town lies on the left-hand side of the river Ganges.
Is Varanasi expensive?
No, not at all. It is a very affordable destination that suits all budgets.
I think I have covered a lot of ground in this post, but if you have more questions, please leave them in the comment section below.